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Mental Health

Mental Health March: Understanding obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Mental Health March is the month I have dedicated to writing HC articles solely with the purpose of bringing awareness to different aspects of mental health! Today’s article; Understanding OCD.

I’m sure that at least at one point in your life you have said something along the lines of “I need to have my desk organized a specific way – I’m so OCD like that,” or maybe “The OCD in me hates it when my room is messy.” If you aren’t the one saying it, then it’s probable that you’ve heard someone else around you say it.

I’m here to tell you that, despite its common use in conversation, OCD happens to be much more than micromanaging. In fact, often at times it has nothing to do with perfectionism or organisation.

What is it?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is much more than an adjective. Otherwise known as OCD, it is a disorder that causes people to experience reoccurring, persistent, and, as the name suggests, compulsive thoughts and impulses. These thoughts and behaviours often have a significant interference with everyday activities and many social interactions.

There are two major parts to OCD: Obsessions and compulsions. The unwanted and persistent ideas or sensations (obsession) urge them to repeatedly act out their thoughts (compulsion).


Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Obsessions

Obsessions refer to the intrusive and recurring thoughts that can cause disgust, stress, or anxiety. People who experience these obsessions are often aware of how disturbing their thoughts are in nature, and are distressed by their inability to resolve them. Many people with OCD attempt to resolve their obsessions through compulsions or distractions.

Such obsessions include, but are absolutely not limited to:

  • Fear of poor hygiene or contamination from their environment
  • Fear of losing something important 
  • Obsession with appearance, precision, order, symmetry
  • Intrusive thoughts of images, words, numbers, or sounds
  • Disturbing sexual thoughts

Compulsions

People who experience OCD feel driven to act on their compulsions. These compulsions can be quite distressing because the person experiencing them may be aware that they are irrational and unrealistic thoughts, and not performing the behaviours can create overwhelming amounts of anxiety. 

The behaviours often reduce or relieve their stress towards an obsession, which is what makes it difficult to stop from performing the ritual. Many rituals can interrupt their day, or make it hard to go long periods of time without performing them.

Such compulsions include, but are absolutely not limited to:

  • Obsessive handwashing, brushing, cleaning
  • Frequent rearrangement
  • Constantly checking appliances and locks
  • Counting to a certain number


assorted-title book lot placed on white wooden shelf
Nick Fewings/Unsplash

OCD affects on average 2-3% of people and is slightly more common in women than men. Trichotillomania is a form of OCD that is expressed through the obsessive and compulsive urge to pick hair from parts of the body. Other examples include body-dysmorphia disorder, hoarding disorder, and excoriation. 

As scary as its description may seem, living with OCD does not mean that it has to take over your life. Many people lead functional lives after treatment and therapy to learn to control and live with their obsessions and compulsions.

I hope this article has helped enlighten you on mental illness! Everyone must take care of their mental health, and often at times that is not easy to do. If you need immediate help, please reach out to emergency psychological services. Ontario residents can call Good2Talk at 1-866-925-5454 or call Crisis Services Canada at 1-833-456-4566. There are always people willing to support you, you are never alone.

 

Olivia Onesi

U Ottawa '24

Olivia enjoys binge reading her favourite young adult novels and going for evening runs. She is a second year psychology student at the University of Ottawa and can be found scrolling endlessly on TikTok.
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